In the past five years, Columbus North has won its first three girls basketball regional titles, its first three semistates and its first state championship.
But as current coach Pat McKee pointed out Saturday during a reception for former players and coaches, the Bull Dogs’ girls basketball history certainly did not start five years ago.
Some of the pioneers of the program were among the 25 former players and six former coaches at North to celebrate its 47-year history at the school. Several more had planned to attend, but were kept away by the weather.
One of those pioneers, Kathy (Grimes) Cox played on the first girls basketball team at Columbus High School since a team known as the “Kittens” played from 1915-30. In 1970-71, she recalls playing six-man basketball, where two played offense only, two played defense only and two ran back and forth.
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The following year, the girls switched to the traditional five-man game. They played only six games, going 4-2 under coach Jackie Graham Burton.
“That was such a big deal for us because we got to really play basketball,” Cox said. “You (current players) are so lucky, you have so much going on that came before you. Hedy (George) was a student-teacher, and she came and played against us so that we really knew what basketball was.”
George, who had played at the University of Kentucky, became the Bull Dogs’ junior varsity coach for the 1972-73 season. Then beginning the next year, she was head coach for 141/3 of the next 18 seasons.
George recalls the girls receiving necklaces instead of varsity letters, having one set of officials for both the JV and varsity games games and commonly playing games on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday nights in some weeks.
In 1976, the girls won their first sectional title. That would be the first of 10 sectional crowns for George, who posted a 187-85 record, and the first of 13 sectional titles over the 21-year period from 1976-96.
A brick on Alumni Plaza at North reads “First ever girls basketball sectional championship 1976 We’ve come a long way baby.”
“All of us Bull Dog basketball players and coaches are part of one fraternity,” George said.
George said the quality of the girls game changed in 1985, when the size of the basketball was reduced by one inch. Turnovers started going down, and shooting percentages went up.
Debbie (Law) Marr became North’s first Indiana All-Star in 1981 and was the first Bull Dog to go on to play college basketball. Marr, who played at University of Indianapolis, returned to North as freshman coach for the 1989-90 season, then spent two years as JV coach and 17 as head coach.
Marr, who is the school’s all-time winningest coach with a 222-138 record, said she felt younger being back among her former teammates and coaches.
One of those former teammates, Deena (Schlehuser) Stoner, now has a daughter playing in the Columbus Comets youth program. She has attended North games and talked about how much stronger the athletes are today since they lift weights, a concept that was foreign to girls in her high school days.
Stoner, who graduated in 1982, told the current players she is impressed with their unity.
“It’s amazing the camaraderie that you guys have,” Stoner said. “I love seeing you come off the court and everybody is truly happy to see the exchange of high-fives. Even out when you’re warming up, you can tell that there’s a certain relationship, and we love seeing that because it’s a team effort.”
McKee put together the special day Saturday to honor the former players and coaches and to let the current players get a sense of the history that came before them. They were recognized at halftime of the Bull Dogs’ win against Terre Haute North and had a chance to meet the current players in the postgame reception.
Senior Maliah Howard-Bass, North’s leading scorer and a Ball State recruit, appreciates the groundwork the former players have laid.
“Just knowing that this all started 45-50 years ago really means something,” Howard-Bass said. “The legacy that they’ve built up has set us up where we are today.”
Columbus North coaching leaders:
Jackie Graham Burton;1971-72;4-2
Columbus North all-time scoring leaders:
Columbus North all-time rebounding leaders: